Sunday, 31 October 2010

Top Ten Favourite Books - Number 9

It's Sunday morning and I just took Nikki, our miniature schnauzer out for her morning walk around the neighbourhood. In her old age, she's developed a habit of waking sometime between 4 and 5, so I've gotten into the habit of taking her out. 'Dog trains owner'.  Anyway, since we're up, what better time to add to my list of my favourite all-time novels.

Firstly an update on the two books I'm currently reading, John Dunning's The Bookman's Promise and Giles Blunt's The Delicate Storm. I've been reading each for about a week now and am enjoying both quite a bit. The Bookman's Promise is another of the Cliff Janeway series. In this one, (Spoiler alert if you worry about that sort of thing). Cliff has purchased a rare Sir Richard Burton, famous English explorer, book at auction. This action starts a chain of events in which Cliff tries to find a collection of Burton's books that were taken from an elderly lady's family 80 years earlier. I'm about a quarter of the way through this story and it's very much in the hard-boiled mystery genre, but updated. Cliff is a tough ex-cop, turned used bookseller, and he quickly develops a closeness to the old woman and wants to help her find her inheritance. It's well-paced, with a fair bit of action and so far, interesting twists and turns. Quite enjoying.

Giles Blunts The Delicate Storm is the second of his Detective John Cardinal mysteries. I'm not quite so far into this one, but even so, it's been very entertaining. I do enjoy this series in part because the books are set in North Bay (although named Algonquin Bay in the series) Ontario. This story has involved Detective Cardinal and his partner, the lovely Lise Delorme, in the discovery of a body in the woods. Thus far he has briefly investigated a fur trapper and is now being forced to work with the RCMP and CSIS (the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, Canada's answer to the CIA). At the same time John is dealing with his father's health issues. It's been a nicely paced story so far and I look forward to finding out more about the murdered body and what the interest is of CSIS in the murder.

Now onto my main purpose, that being to talk about the second book in my Top Ten favourite list. Philip K. Dick was born in 1928 and died in 1982. He was a science fiction writer who introduced me to the 'alternate history' type of science fiction. That wasn't his only style of Sci Fi novel; his stories dealt with drug abuse, altered states, many varied concepts. I think the first of his books I read was The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, taken in a Science Fiction novel course I took at university. But the one that grabbed my attention the most, was The Man in the High Castle. The version I have was published by Berkley Books, the 11th printing in Dec 1983. The story was written originally in 1962.

The Man in the High Castle is alternate history. Its 'what-if' scenario asks the question, what if World War Two had ended differently, what if in fact, the Japanese and Germans had won WWII and the United States was divided between Japan and Germany. The novel was well received in the Sci Fi world, winning Philip Dick the Hugo award in 1963. It is a very complex story, with stories within the story, many characters are reading a novel which tells its own what if story, what if the Nazis and Japan hadn't won the war. The main characters live in the Japanese West Coast states; deal with antiques of American pop culture to satisfy the Japanese taste for everything American. There is an ongoing relationship with the I Ching for some characters; the use of the I Ching to outline the course of their actions for the lives. It's a fascinating novel and one I've read a few times. It got me interested in other alternate history, by authors like Harry Turtledove and J Gregory Keyes. There is a nice interplay between the Japanese culture and that of the Nazis. I even recall getting a book on the I Ching to find out more about it. I highly recommend the story; it's probably one of the more accessible of Philip Dick's stories, but still with enough twists and turns to keep you occupied.

Of the other Philip Dick novels, I also still have, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Dr Bloodmoney and A Maze of Death. At one time or another I also read Ubik and have recently purchased A Scanner Darkly and The Unteleported Man.

A brief synopsis of the three I have read;

A Maze of Death - (Bantam edition printed in Sep 1977) - Fourteen earthly exiles on an island in boundless space. Fourteen victims of a murderous power. Is this nameless menace the product of their own darkest imaginings - or some richly mysterious, infinitely more terrifying other?

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch - (A Manor Book, printed in 1975) - When Palmer Eldritch returned from a distant galaxy, he claimed he had brought a gift for mankind. It was a drug that would transport one into an illusory world. One could spend years in this other dimension and never lose a second of Earth time. Eldritch offered immortality, wish fulfillment... the powers over time and space. But he exacted a terrible price; he, Palmer Eldritch, would enter, control and be a god in every one's private universe - a universe from which there was no escape, not even death.

Dr Bloodmoney, or How we got along after the Bomb (Ace Books, copyright 1965) - What happens when the Bomb that everyone has been talking about since 1945 finally drops? What happens to the people and the animals of Earth? Will it mean the end of the world? Or will everything continue in a different way?

Philip Dick's stories can be very strange and weird. In many, there is little to no contact with reality, or you just don't know where reality starts or if it even exists. His stories occupy many planes of reality and are interesting to search through. I really enjoyed and have a few times, The Man in the High Castle. Philip Dick is a unique writer and if you enjoy sci fi, he definitely needs to be explored. One final word on The Man in the High Castle is that a TV mini series is supposedly in production for BBC, possibly directed by Ridley Scott. Something to look forward to.

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